The way General Motors and Chrysler tell it, the dealerships they want to kill off as part of the big retailer roundup of 2009 are under-performers who must go for the greater good of the auto industry.
But then you talk to some of the doomed dealers and look at their sales and satisfaction rankings. It would seem the auto makers are axing some aces.
I've talked to dealers who have excelled in their markets, but failed to make the cut. They're stunned. Take Craig Sisk of Sisk Buick Pontiac in Longview, TX.
“We've been profitable for all 19 years we've been here,” he tells me. “It hasn't been easy. I get here at 5:30 a.m. and really work at it. I'm the one serving GM's customers for them. How do you look someone like that in the eye and say, ‘Good riddance.’?”
Sisk shows documentation of his success. GM scored him 280% in sales effectiveness in 2008, enough to be dubbed a “superior” dealer.
In customer satisfaction, GM's measurement ranks him in the top 3%. Sisk was No.1 of 214 Pontiac dealers and No.2 of 213 Buick dealers for GM's Mark of Excellence program.
“We have conducted business honestly and fulfilled everything GM has ever asked,” Sisk says. “Each employee gave General Motors their best. We know because GM told us so.”
One of the things GM asked him to do was acquire a Pontiac franchise. Sisk dutifully bought one. Now GM is dumping the Pontiac brand, making Sisk a single-point Buick dealer. To GM, that lone status is reason enough to drop him.
Texas is truck country, but not every Texan buys a pickup, Sisk notes. “My Buick customers are loyal; many have bought four or five vehicles from me.”
Among other successes, he's figured out how to sell Buicks in Texas, of all places. Someone like that is an extraordinary dealer, one presumably GM would cherish.
“But they are walking in and taking it away from us,” Sisk says.
Then there is the bewildered Kevin Mock, general manager of family-owned Century Dodge-Chrysler-Jeep in Wentzville, MO, outside of Saint Louis.
It has been profitable for 19 of 20 years, since his father and uncle acquired it, tore down a rundown 1930s building on a gravel lot and replaced it with a $2 million facility.
“In 2005, at the behest of Chrysler, we spent another $2 million on an expansion project,” Mock says. “Our customer-satisfaction scores are impeccable. And we are not dualed with any other franchise.”
Yet, Century is one of the 789 Chrysler-brand dealerships to get the dreaded “Dear Dealer” letter. “We feel we are being punished,” Mock says.
In 2004, the Mock family says it sued Chrysler for nearly doubling quotas on a contractual agreement called the dealership minimal sales responsibilities.
The Mocks claimed Chrysler arbitrarily hiked expected sales numbers. The parties settled the matter out of court.
Eighteen months ago, Chrysler, on land it bought in 2005 and then resold, added another Chrysler, Dodge and Jeep store seven miles from Mock's dealership. That store stays. Century goes.
Is it payback time because of that lawsuit? Mock thinks so.
“Absolutely not true,” Chrysler spokeswoman Kathy Graham says. As far as the past litigation with the Mocks is concerned “it's done, over and everyone is happy.”
The decision to drop Century came from “a data-driven matrix,” she says. “Either you were above the line or under it. They were under it.”
The Mocks are suing Chrysler again, this time for the termination. Kevin Mock says he has since come across dealers in Texas, New York and Rhode Island who also had sued Chrysler over a business dispute and now face elimination.
“Some unprofitable, underperforming dealers should go,” he says. “But we're among the top 10% of Chrysler dealers. What's happening to us is ludicrous.”